Gadkari's Tweet on Water Sharing With Pakistan Creates Storm, Ministry Says Not 'New Decision'

With tensions still simmering, social media speculated that the minister’s announcement was to put pressure on Islamabad after the deadly Pulwama attack.

New Delhi: A tweet by Union water resources minister Nitin Gadkari led to speculation over the fate of the bilateral Indus Waters Treaty, but it was soon clear that not only was the BJP leader referring to utilising India’s share under the pact, but it was also just a reiteration of a previous statement.

On Thursday evening, Indian minister in charge of water resources, Nitin Gadkari tweeted that the Narendra Modi government “decided to stop our share of water which used to flow to Pakistan”. “We will divert water from Eastern rivers and supply it to our people in Jammu and Kashmir and Punjab,” he wrote on the social media platform.

With tensions still simmering, social media became energised with speculation that the minister’s announcement was to put pressure on Islamabad after the deadly Pulwama attack. This led to some confusion, with some media reports stating that India was stopping flow of water to Pakistan.

However, the emphasis on “our share” in Gadkari’s tweet made it clear that Indian government was not talking of stopping Pakistan’s allocation under the Indus Water Treaty.

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According to the Indus Waters Treaty, India has “unrestricted use” of all the waters of Eastern rivers, which are Ravi, Beas and Sutlej, after a small allocation to Pakistan. Conversely, Pakistan has “unrestricted” use of Chenab, Jhelum and Indus river, while India has limited usage for agricultural, storage and hydropower.

After the initial confusion, it was cleared up by the ministry that neither was the statement new nor did it mean a violation of IWT.

A senior ministry of water resources official noted that the minister’s statement was “not new”.

Last month, Gadkari reiterated the need to utilise all of India’s share of water under IWT at the function to sign an MoU for construction of Renukaji Multi-Purpose Dam project in the Upper Yamuna Basin today.

In September 2016, after the terror attack on an Indian camp at Uri, India decided to
take steps to maximise usage of western rivers as per the pact and review the suspension of the construction of Tulbul navigation project. There was also a decision to not hold a meeting of the Permanent Indus Commission.

Last month, Pakistani officials travelled to India to hold the meeting of Indus commissioners. They also visited the Pakal Dul dam on Chenab river. The invitation to Pakistan was extended as an outcome of bilateral talks on the Indus Water Treaty in August 2018.

Speaking to The Wire, former Indian diplomat, Dilip Sinha who was in-charge of Pakistan desk, said that utilising India’s share in the eastern rivers was not

“The bigger problem is in the western rivers. Whatever water we can utilise, we can store through projects. Pakistan has a right to come and inspect those projects and that leads to disputes,” said Sinha.

He claimed that “because of Pakistani obstructionism”, India has “not been able to construct projects which can enable us to utilise our share of the western rivers”.

If India had to withdraw from the Indus Water Treaty, New Delhi has to make simple announcement by informing Pakistan and World Bank.

Himanshu Thakkar, coordinator of South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People, said that India was within its rights to utilise the eastern river.

But, he cautioned that Gadkari’s assertion that un-utilised water will be diverted to Jammu and Kashmir and Punjab “can’t happen overnight”.

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Gadkari further tweeted that construction of the Shahpurkandi dam project had begun.

The Union cabinet approved the construction of the project at a cost of Rs 485.38 crore in December 2018. The PIB press release on the Cabinet decision said that “implementation of this project would help minimising some of the water of the River Ravi which at present is going waste through the MadhopurHeadworks downstream to Pakistan”. The project is scheduled to be completed in June 2022.

Another project on Ujh, a tributary of Ravi river, would “store our share of water for use in Jammu and Kashmir and the balance water will flow from 2nd Ravi Beast link to provide water to other basin states”, tweeted Gadkari. The Ujh project had been hanging fire since 2001.

Gadkari’s third tweet gave the impression that the projects have been declared national projects recently.

While Shahpurkandi was declared as a “national project” through a cabinet approval two months ago, Ujh received the same designation in 2006.